Severe headaches can cause significant financial, psychological and emotional impact on the individual. The negative impact on the individual’s quality of life is greater than any other of chronic conditions such arthritis, hypertension or diabetes. While headaches are very common in young and middle age population, people with headaches do not visit the doctor’s office. Patients turn to over the counter medication such as Tylenol, Aleve, Aspirin or Ibuprofen. However, over the counter medication does not treat the root of the headache and only mask the pain. In fact, headaches are one of the most common reasons for the use of over the counter medication.
Migraines are the leading cause of disability worldwide, particularly in individuals under 50 years of age. Notably, migraines co-exist with neck pain, depression and anxiety, which can drastically decreases quality of life.
Migraine can be divided into three phases:
Pre-migraine Phase patient feels that headache is coming. During this phase sensory threshold of the patient decreases and patient may feel other aches (neck, shoulders, upper back pain). Furthermore, patient may complain of light sensitivity, nausea, mood change, irritability and appetite change.
Aura Phase Patient may complain of visual changes as halo of lights. During this phase, patient may complain of changes in smell or taste.
Post-migraine Phase Headache resolves however, neck, shoulder or back pain may persist migraine
Causes for Migraine:
- Vascular (increased or decreased blood flow to the brain)
- Neurological (Over active nervous system)
- Medication withdrawal
- Medication overuse
Can hormones cause migraine? Women are more susceptible for migraine type of headache 3:1 (M vs F) ratio. This suggests that reproductive hormones in woman’s life can play a vital role in migraines.
Migraine and Neck Pain
Neck pain is a very common sign that might present in pre-migraine phase and continue through all three phases. In fact 50% of population will report neck pain with a migraine headache. Migraine believed to be the cause of the over active neurons (cells that transmit the information) in the brain. Smells, food, loud noise, bright lights, changes in altitude and temperature change can trigger overactive neurons.
Signs and Symptoms of the Migraine Headache
- Throbbing pain in one or both side of the head
- Aura (Flashes of light or halos)
- Sensitivity to light
- Sensitivity to sound
- Mood changes
- Weather change
- Emotional stress
- Loud noise
- Strong smells (chocolate, scented candles, coffee, aged cheese, cured meats)
- Lack of sleep
Cervicogenic headache is caused by an abnormality of structures in the neck. Structures that may cause the cervicogenic headache are deep muscles, joints and/or ligaments and may be the sources of referred pain to the head. Pain may project to orbital area (eye and eyebrow) and aggravated by specific neck movements or maintaining neck position for prolonged period of time. Such signs and symptoms explain the need for chiropractic adjustment with cervicogenic headache.
Signs and symptoms of cervicogenic headache:
- One sided headache
- Decreased range of motion in the neck
- Headaches usually about 3 hours in duration
- Re-occurring in nature
- Patient MAY have migraine type complaints: sensitivity to light, vomiting and nausea.
Tension Type Headache
Tension type headache is characterized by squeezing sensation in temporal region. Patient may say “feels like my head is in a vise” or “feels like I have a band around my head”. Tension type headaches are bilateral (both sided of the head), non-throbbing, and NOT aggravated by physical activity such as walking or climbing stairs. Furthermore, patient will NOT have sensitivity to light or loud sounds.
Signs and symptoms of tension type head ache:
- Squeezing sensation around temples
- Affects both sides of the body
- Tension, stiffness or trigger points in the neck
- NO sensitivity to light or loud sounds
- NO nausea
Cluster Type Headache
Cluster type headache is one of the most sever primary headaches. It occurs in the periodic patterns or cyclic patterns. Features of the cluster type headache is pain on one side of the head, pain behind or around the eye, tearing in the eye, sense of restlessness and sweating on the effected side of the face.
Cluster type headache is periodic in nature. Bouts of headache that can last for weeks known as cluster periods following by remission state. Remission stage can last for months and even years. Luckily, cluster type headaches are non-life threatening and respond well to treatments. Treatments of cluster type headaches can shorten the cluster period and reduce the pain intensity of the headache.
Signs and Symptoms of Cluster Type Headache
- Headache is strictly one-side
- Eye pain on the effected side
- Periods of headaches followed by remission
- Tearing and/or sweating on the effected side
- Nasal congestion on effected side (Sinus Headache)
- Sense of restlessness
How Can a Chiropractor Help for Headaches
When to see a doctor
Majority of the headaches are non-life threatening and do not require emergency assistance. However, pathological headaches do exist and require immediate medical assistance. Here are the signs and symptoms when you should seek immediate medical aid. Headache accompanied by the following:
- New type of headache after age of 50 (worse headache ever)
- Facial numbness
- Blurred vision
- Slurred speech
- Weakness in an arm or leg
- Difficulty swallowing
An effective chiropractic or medical treatment for any type of headache requires the identification of the root causation. Recognition and elimination of specific aggravating factors, co-existing medical conditions, lifestyle modification, and personalization of the treatment plan is the absolute MUST for a successful treatment outcome. Furthermore, preventative treatments by the chiropractor can alleviate and prevent future headaches and migraines.